The “Dirty Dozen” Exercises:
More often than not, I get asked “Coach, what are the best exercises to do?” Or “If you were to choose “X” amount of exercise, what would they be?”. There are a plethora of great exercises and variations that my students and I truly love to do. However if I were to boil it down to several movements that are essential to any strength and conditioning regiment, I would choose 6 Kettlebell exercises and 6 Bodyweight movements.
I’m not saying that these are the ONLY exercises you should do but they all should be included in your workout regiment, no matter what your focus is. These exercises will increase strength, endurance, coordination, flexibility and durability like no others. These exercises will even improve your performance with your bench press, deadlift and bar squats.
Over the next year, I’ll be putting forth write ups accompanied by videos on the “Dirty Dozen”. We’ll discuss variations and progressions, especially when considering bodyweight. I’ll discuss each movement in depth and give my reasoning for the selection of each movement.
OK- here’s the list.
The Kettlebell Swing: This movement is the root of all Kettlebell Training and the great differentiator between Kettlebell based training and all other strength developing exercise systems. The Kettlebell Swing “reverse engineers” the practitioner’s hips by developing hip hinge through the pop and lock required to execute the movement properly.
The Front Squat: Single Rack or Bottoms up. Squatting is the most important movement for lower body and core strength. The Front Squat, by virtue of the position of the Kettlebell, this exercise requires the complete linkage of the upper and lower body. Tensioning of the trunk (core – tho I’m not a fan of the word) and maintaining the bell in the prescribed position requires considerable upper body engagement in addition to the tension in the trunk.
The Kettlebell Press: Pressing heavy weight above your head is very cool and extremely useful. The Kettlebell Press employs full range of motion, full body tension and active negative (downward) motion of the bell.
The Get-up: There is not a single movement that incorporates more muscles of the body than the Get up, also known as the Turkish Get Up or TGU. This incredible exercise is a signature movement of Kettlebell Training. Dynamic tension, balance, flexibility and body alignment are all developed with the TGU. The Clean: The Kettlebell Clean is used in a great deal of Kettlebell complexes, racking the kettlebell for Squats and Presses, but it’s an incredibly beneficial stand alone movement. A single arm clean taxes the stabilizers in the trunk as well as reinforcing the tensioning and relaxation.
The Kettlebell Snatch: This is my favorite of all Kettlebell movements. The Kettlebell Snatch is a ballistic movement that develops strength, endurance, speed, coordination and there is no question why this movement is used in both competitions and testing as a fitness barometer. The Kettlebell Snatch V02 Max workout is unmatched in maximizing one’s volume of oxygen uptake.
The Bridge: An ignored movement in American physical fitness. Very few athletes, except for wrestlers and gymnasts, utilize this crucial movement. The Bridge is exactly what it’s name connotes. The development of a strong, flexible spine linking together the upper torso with the trunk and lower limbs. Strong spinal erectors are essential to a healthy spine and unhindered movement. Key to athletics, active living and certain vocations – not to mention every day living!
Hanging Abdominals: One can do thousands of crunches and buy every gimmicky ab machine on the TV at 2:00am, nothing will develop your abdominals better than the Hanging the Abdominals. Lifting your legs up to your chest or your feet above your head develops and requires significant abdominal strength.
The Pistol (Single Leg Squat): The most difficult and beneficial leg exercise – period. The training enroute a butt to heel Pistol develops balance, trunk stability and incredible leg strength. There are weight lifters that can full squat 600 pounds, yet they collapse and fall over when attempting the Pistol.
The Hand Stand: This is the coolest of all bodyweight exercises. Nothing demonstrates full body control and balance than being able to invert yourself in the middle of a room and hold it there. The progressions building up to the Handstand develop incredible shoulder and trunk strength.
The Pull-up: There is no single exercise that demonstrates and develops upper body strength like the Pull-up. If you can do 20 pull-ups, you are in great shape. I challenge you to show me a person who can do 20 pull-ups and doesn’t have a 6-pack.
The Push-up: The Push-up is my favorite for several reasons. There are fun and challenging variations, the movement works not only your upper body but conditions your abdominals and reinforces the total body tensioning. The best thing about Push-ups is that you can do them virtually anywhere that there is a floor. Your bedroom, basement or office – anywhere. There is no good reason for you not to do them. Get started now!
There you have it. 12 exercises that no training regiment should be without. If you want to achieve ultimate, applicable strength and conditioning, your program needs to include these core “Dirty Dozen” exercises.
I’ve been asked “Is it possible to gain size with Bodyweight only exercise?” The short answer is “Yes”. It’s easier to accomplish upper body size gains with bodyweight training than with lower. Without meeting you personally or at least getting to know you better, it would be impossible to adequately provide you direct program recommendations. However, I will provide some guidelines and concepts.
First, a few “Don’ts”. Do not treat your calisthenics as a quasi-aerobic or simple warm up. Find challenging movements and utilize progressions, as employed in Coach Paul Wade’s book Convict Conditioning. Or view the video version with Max Shank.
Let’s address push-up, for example. I chose those to address, because you can do push-ups, even at the most difficult levels, anywhere and with no equipment. Remember to use progressions and be certain not to skip any levels in your progression. You may form “holes” on your training and hinder your ability to achieve your highest levels. Here are a couple of YouTube clips of me performing push-up variations.
Please make certain that you employ strict technique and do not rush through the movements. The combination of 10 second push-ups and spiderman push-ups have yielded some particularly favorable results.
As far as your legs and lower body are concerned. It is difficult reaching great size with simple bodyweight exercises. Squats and Pistol Squats (Single Leg) movements with result in a great deal of strength, but not a supper amount of size. Why is this so? You are on your legs all of the time and you need to substantially increase the resistive load to stimulate muscle hypertrophy. It’s most easily accomplished with adding weight to your exercises. I prefer kettlebells, because you can use much less weight for attain results than you would have to with barbells or machines. If you don’t have access to kettlebells or if you are adverse to using weights, employ a regiment of plyometric exercise. There is a great deal of plyometric literature and exercise programs available.
Coach Phil Ross
Never Say Die
You hear it all of the time “Never Say Die”. You see the athlete in competition, whether its MMA, a Grappling Match, a Track Meet or a Football game – the sport does not matter, only the actions that lead to the end result. The participant is behind and it seems as if all is lost and then the tide shifts and the athlete that appeared to be done for surges and emerges victorious.
Everyone wants to win. Wanting to win is not the hard part. Sacrificing everyday in your training, your eating habits and ignoring distractions; that is the difficult task. You need to make your training your priority – no room for excuses – make it to your workouts and push yourself to get better, stronger and faster. Excuses for failure are common, find a way to succeed.
How does this happen? How does one develop this “Never Say Die” attitude? Can it be developed? Or is it only in certain people?
There are certain people born with an innate inner toughness, but if it’s not cultivated, they burn out and lose it over time. Others seem to develop, grow tougher and more resilient over time. How is this done?
There is one sure fire way to develop this Never Say Die attitude, Train Hard. Yes, the more that you sacrifice and persevere, the more you become committed to succeed and less you are able to tolerate failure. There are many times when a combatant is in a scramble, they could easily give in and let their opponent win, yet they do not allow this to happen. The time, effort and pain endured in training comes through and they “dig deep” into their soul and put forth another effort. Training with purpose will not only harden your body, but your mind as well.
When you are training, think to yourself “What is my opponent doing? Is he training like I am? Is he sparring those extra rounds, running that additional mile and performing those few more reps? Is he pushing through the pain?” You will never be able to answer those questions, until after the contest. The best chance of success that you have is to train to your best ability and don’t make excuses for not training.
The more that you put in, the more that you will be prepared to win. Take the Samurai for example. They were in Life and Death Battles. If they lost, they were dead. In order to win, they needed to have supreme confidence. They developed this confidence through their daily training regiment and discipline. The tenants espoused by the Samurai are ones that we can base our training on to develop our Never Say Die attitude.
As Always – Train Hard & Train Often.
My Best Friend: Are you a fitness enthusiast that takes their running shoes on trips, only to feel uncomfortable road running in unfamiliar areas? Are you tired of endlessly waiting for cardio equipment to free up at your gym, only to feel like a hamster running on a wheel? Do you love to run outdoors, yet shy away from putting on five layers of under-armor and sweats on in order to brave the sub arctic temperatures?
Well, let me introduce you to my “Best Friend”, the jump rope. You can take it anywhere, you do not need much space, it does not matter what the weather is like outside, you do not need expensive equipment ($2.00 to $20.00 for a rope, my favorite costs $8.00) and you can vary the routines and movements to keep it interesting. My Grandfather was a boxing trainer in Paterson, NJ back in the 30’s, 40’s and into the 50’s. He instructed me on how to jump rope as a teenager as a means to improve my foot speed and endurance for wrestling and football. I then began to realize the incredible benefits of jumping rope.
If you jump rope at a good pace for 5 minutes, it’s equivalent to running a mile! The coordination of your hands and feet moving in rhythm with each other is essential for a fighter. All of my martial arts classes begin with 3 to 5 minutes of jumping rope. In addition to the coordination development, jumping rope is an incredible means to warm up the body.
Even if you are a beginner and you miss on your jump, keep moving your feet. To learn how to jump, here are a couple of tips:
1) Play some music that you like with a good beat. You should put together a playlist for at least the same amount of time that you want to jump for. Use your favorite, upbeat songs & make a mix. Or, for those with obsessive, manic personalities, repeat the same song as an extended version. This also helps you jump rope longer. You basically fool your self into NOT thinking that you are jumping that long.
2) To initially get your timing, watch as the rope hits the ground. That’s when you time your jump. It may take a few weeks to get your timing, but keep working, it will eventually happen.
3) If you are still having issues, try putting the rope in one hand and jump up and down while rotating your wrist. This will help you to find your timing.
4) Remember the less movement of your arms, the better. Your wrists are the primary focus of the rotation. Try also to keep them in the same spot, approximately at the level between the bottom of your chest and the top of your hips. This does not hold true when you are doing more advanced movements, like crossing the rope or double jumps.
5) You do not have to jump very high. You only need to jump high enough to allow the thin rope to pass under your feet. Get your rhythm and all else will fall into place.
If you’d like to workout the rest of your body, try performing push-ups and abdominal exercises in a rotation with jumping rope. You can start with 100 jumps, 20 push – ups and 30 abdominals. Start with 3 rotations and then increase to 5. You may also execute additional push – ups or abdominals. What a great way to start the day!
Victory Favors the Prepared!
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach me at HYPERLINK “http://www.philross.com” www.philross.com.
Muscle Confusion: Hype or Reality?
Since the advent of the P90X video series, the notion of “Muscle Confusion” seems to be on everyone’s lips and has replaced conversations of Core Based Workouts as the main concern for fitness enthusiasts. We’ll tackle the notion of the elusive “Core” in another blog.
Muscle confusion has been a very popular training method for many, many years. Yes – the P90X does a good job at leading you through your daily routine, but the program does not take into consideration the varying degrees of fitness, athletic ability, age and other stressors that the potential customer base may possess. I am not here to bash the P90X series. On one hand it has inspired many people to lose weight, get in shape and improve their lives, on the other hand many people have become injured while using it. I have personally worked with several clients, of various ages, that came to me after doing the PX90 series and incurring injuries. People have injured their backs, knees, hips and shoulders.
If you read the book by Arnold Schwartzeneggar: The Education of A Bodybuilder. I read this book in 1978 and it had an incredible impact on me. While attending the University of Maryland I participated in a workout session with the Barbarian Brothers, Peter & David Paul. They were filming of the movie DC Cab with Mr. T & Gary Bussey. My friend’s dad owned the Gold’s Gym in Wheaton, Maryland and he invited a few of us guys down for the workout session. The book by Arnold, the workout session with the Barbarian Brothers and countless other strength and fitness athletes have always stressed “Varying the Workout”, “Shock the Muscles”, “Change your Routine”. That is the only true way to stimulate growth and achieve higher levels of fitness.
Why is it so important? Why can’t I just stick with my set of exercises? Why can’t I simply run the same amount and the same route every time? Why – because the body gets stale with the same routine. You need to “force” the body to respond to varied loads and/or movements. Soreness from your workout should be the norm. If you do not experience soreness on a regular basis, you are not developing. If you have hit platues with your strength or your times running or find that you are dreading training; you need to varying your routine. Not to mention the fact of repetitive stress injuries that the same routine breed.
When you do your roadwork, you need to vary the terrain, the distance and the level of intensity that you run. Example: If you run three times a week, session one, do a 3 mile mile run at 80 percent your capability. Next session, do interval training or what runners call the “Float”. Go to the track and run a 200 hard, then at 50%. Do this for several laps, in accordance to your fitness level and ability. The third session of the week, go for a long run at an easy pace, 65 to 70%. This is just an example for one week. I’ll address running programs in more detail in future blogs.
Kettlebell Training: Lends itself to Muscle Confusion better than any other method available. Personally, I know several hundred movement variations with the Kettlebell. There are also a plethora of workout delivery methods with a Kettlebell. Complexes, Chains, Powerdure, 4×8’s, Combined Kettlebell and Body weight routines, Scrambled eggs, Strength, Endurance, Flexibility, Explosive Power Focus. One of the differentiators with Kettlebells, is that you have the ability to either focus on one of the phases of training or mix and match the methods in any combination that make sense or that keeps your workout interesting. You also need to employ the various levels of intensity to your workouts. You can’t go 100% every workout. This is another subject that I will cover in greater detail in a future blog. Hey – I have to keep you coming back for more!
Yes – Muscle Confusion is a reality and has great merit, but it’s not new or revolutionary – It’s just simply good.
Train Hard & Train Often!
What’s your motivation? (and how to keep it)
A seemingly simple question to answer, but whatever your motivation to train is, it must be more compelling than distractions that will dissuade you from your fitness commitment. Maybe you want to be the best fighter in the world, or your grandfather died of a young age due to his weight, you were mugged or picked on as a child. There could also be positive motivations: the quest to be the best that you can be, to stay in or get in great shape, for the enjoyment of training, stress relief, competition with others and yourself. Unless your motivation is harmful to others, there is no right or wrong reason to train, as long as it keeps you working out and improving yourself – it’s good.
Many of the the reasons that are our original motivation to train do not last forever. Example – let’s say you want to make the Varsity Football Team. You have to get bigger, faster, stronger and learn the skill set for your desired position. OK – you’ve made the team, now the season ends and your are graduating high school. There’s no way that you are going to play in college, yet you really enjoyed the way that you felt and how your body looked and performed when you were working out. Now you have a different motivation.
Just like rotating your workout schedule, you need to alter your motivational factors from time to time. If you start a new martial art with the goal of becoming a Black Belt and then a few months later decide to enter a triathlon. They are quite different goals, but the training for one will help the other. Keep fresh motivation, shot range goals and try different motivations.
I have plenty of clients that come in want to lose weight. They have now lost their 80 lbs (yes, this did happen), what do they do now? Just keeping the weight off as a goal may not be motivating enough. The person knows that they must keep working out – but what is the motivating factor? This person wants to be able to do a pull-up and start the martial arts. They can achieve the new goal because of their former motivation.
I’ve had other clients that wanted to get off of all of their blood pressure and cholesterol medications. Avoiding death is a reasonably strong motivator. Now that the client is off of the pills, what’s his new motivation? He now wants to be able to snatch a 24kg (53 lb) kettlebell 100 times. That’s a very respectable goal and new motivation. He had to change his motivation since his former goal to train had been met.
The point of all of this is to get you to think of new goals, new motivations and new methods to keep you inspired to continue your training. There are many excuses for failure – find the reason to succeed!
As Always: Train Hard and Train Often!
Greasing the Grove: How to Dramatically Increase Strength
Strength, in certain movements eludes many of us. How do we harness this power? By Greasing the Grove – according to Pavel Tsatsouline, the father of modern day Kettlebell Training and Strength Development. It’s a very simple and pointed notion, yet requires great discipline. You have to re-tool your thinking from simply working out to practicing strength.
If you desire to get better at a specific exercise, you will need to practice it throughout the day. Do not do your sets to failure, rather focus on doing 50 to 60% of your maximum. For example, if you would like to increase your push-ups and you max out at 50, do sets of 25 or 30 reps 4 to 5 times throughout the day. You may want to vary the routine by performing 5 to 10 repetitions very slowly or a combination of the two.
Only focus on one to two exercises for 4 to 6 weeks. I recently underwent neck surgery and was unable to do much. I started doing 10 push-ups several times during the day. Within 6 weeks I was up to doing five, one armed push-ups! Now I am able to do pull-ups, so I am doing 5 pull-ups and 1 pistol (one legged squat) at a time. I’m doing this 5 to 6 times a day.
Why does this work? Shouldn’t we train to failure and then recover and get stronger that way? ABSOLUTELY NOT! You increase your strength due to synaptic facilitation. By utilizing a relatively intense stimulation repeated frequently at full strength, increases the strength of the synaptic connections. In other words, more boost will be given to the muscle when performing a given exercise and the muscle will have learned to make a harder contraction and yield more strength.
You may do the same with weights. If you are able to perform a maximum dead lift of 400, do sets of 3 to 6 reps of 250. Do it 4 to 6 times a day. I have a friend of mine who increased his already respectable bench press by more than 75 pounds in 4 weeks! He was bench pressing 425 and started “Greasing the Groove” by doing 3 repetitions of 315 4 to 6 times a day 4 days per week. His bench press went through the roof in 1 month & he broke the 500 pound mark!
Pick an exercise, do it frequently 4 to 6 times a day and keep it up for 6 weeks and see how you improve. You will be astonished. Let me know your results.
Train Hard & Train Smart!
Kettlebells are the new fitness rage. In my opinion, and many others, Kettlebell Training is the best overall tool for complete fitness. All of the major goals can be met with proper training: Strength, Conditioning, Flexibility, Durability and Athletic Ability are all increased with proper implementation of a Kettlebell Program.
That’s all well and good, but where do you start? First you need to find a qualified instructor and/or a thorough video. If you are basing your training on the workouts displayed on youtube, you are in trouble. Yes, you can get some great ideas (and a lot of harmful ones) from the free internet service – but you do get what you pay for.
What weight do I start with? Common sense dictates that you start light. Yes and no. “Yes and no” – you may be asking yourself how can I say that?!? You HAVE start light. In certain exercises, yes you need to build up, but in many kettlebell exercises it is actually detrimental to your technique execution if the weight it too light. I will expand on this notion with an example.
Let us consider the Kettlebell Clean. The Clean is an essential Kettlebell movement used as a stand alone exercise, in Complexes and Chains as well as a means to get the Kettlebell into position for other exercises: such as presses and squats. If you use too light of a kettlebell, you will complete the exercise improperly.
If you can simply “curl” the Kettlebell into position, it’s too light and you are doing the technique improperly. We have a “Cheat Curl” to help you get the properly weighted Kettlebell into the rack position, provided your cleans are not yet up to snuff.
With the light bell, you will not be firing your core or stabilizers. You need a properly weighted Kettlebell to recruit these muscles and maximize the benefits of working with Kettlebells.
If you clean a Kettlebell that it too light, you will tend to smash it against your wrist and arm. This will cause bruising and unnecessary pain, not to mention the practitioner not gaining the benefits from Kettlebells.
There are many other facets of training that proper choice of Kettlebell weight are necessary. The alignment of the knees, spine, shoulders and other joints. Breathing behind the shield.
There are, of course, instances when using too much weight can be detrimental as well. If you haven’t developed the proper shoulder stabilization, using too much weight on an Armbar or a Turkish Get-up could result in injury. You must know how to pack your shoulders, lock your joints and employ proper full body tensioning to successfully hoist heavy weight with quite a few Kettlebell maneuvers. So, one does have to start with using lighter weights before these movements are even to be attempted with heavy one.
So to answer the question: “How heavy of a Kettlebell should I use?” I will make the following statement with no hesitation at all – “It depends”. It depends on the movement, your ability and your level of fitness. You also need to employ good judgement and start with basic movements to gain your confidence an learn how the Kettlebell moves.
As always: Train Hard & Train Often!